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Middle Eastern Program Puts Focus on Inclusiveness

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Middle East has been the center of cultural ferment for millenniums, from the dominance of Egypt to the campaigns of Alexander to the incursions of the Crusaders and beyond. It also has been a perpetual flash point, ignited by dreams of empire, ethnicity, religion and oil.

The contradictions between those two factors--cultural connectivity and seemingly endless conflicts--underscored a concert of world music and dance Saturday night at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. The program, which featured flamenco dancer Laila and guitarist Adam del Monte, oud player John Bilezikjian, singer Marysol Fuentes and the Ney Nava Dance Theatre, was a benefit supporting the creation of the Levantine Center.

The center is described by its organizers, the Open Tent Middle East Coalition, as “a new paradigm for Middle Eastern cultures and coexistence.” Scheduled to open in 2002 (at a site yet to be identified), it reportedly will include a performance space, art gallery, conference room, workshops, bookstore, cafe and office space for nonprofit groups representing Arab, Israeli, Persian, Turkish, Armenian, Greek, Kurdish and other cultures, including Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews.

Cultural “coexistence,” at least, was fully present in the opening half of the program, “El Azahar” (named after the orange blossoms of El-Andalus), an exploration of flamenco and Arab music by the Del Montes and Bilezikjian. The eight selections ranged from a solea and buleria to a rumba and Del Monte’s own invention, sambule, a fusion of samba, flamenco and jazz. Joining the featured artists in various numbers were bassist Asaf del Monte, percussionist Patric Olivier, guitarist Tony Ybarra, flutist Roberto Dergara and the Del Montes’ two sons, Enosh and Shaul, playing violin and cello.

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The most compelling aspect of “El Azahar,” however, was the marvelously creative coexistence between the dancing of Laila del Monte and her husband’s playing. She began with a classic flamenco in the opening “Solea” and concluded with a stunning blend of flamenco and Middle Eastern movements in the closing “Solea por Buleria.” Her rhythmic stamping became a virtual percussion instrument, exchanging passages with his guitar, initiating new segments in the music, emerging into the foreground as a stunning display of physical and musical virtuosity.

Adam del Monte’s performance, especially in tandem with the passionate singing of Fuentes, tapped into the rich tradition of flamenco before moving easily into more fusion-oriented passages. A duet with Bilezikjian on “Los Bilbilikos” reached into the Sephardic roots of flamenco. “Rumba,” with the two Del Monte sons participating, gathered in Armenian influences. And both “Sambule” and “Chalaco” blended jazz, flamenco and South American rhythms into a cultural coexistence reaching beyond the Middle East and into the New World.

The program’s second half, titled “Halparkeh” (“dance” in Kurdish) was created by Iranian-born choreographer-dancer Shida Pegahi as a “personal history,” an effort to inform her American audience of the diverse nature of her culture. Its eight selections were performed by Pegahi’s Ney Nava Dance Theatre and the Ney Nava Junior Dance Ensemble in styles ranging from classical Persian to contemporary dance.


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